So this took a long time to write. A very long time. It clocks in at around 4000 words, and I probably wrote three times that which isn't seeing the light of day because it got edited or overwritten or scrapped out of existence. This is probably the most important chapter in the entire story, and so I apologize for its lateness but this chapter more than anything else I had to be happy with.
I think I'm finally there.
Expect a post in a couple of days with my plans going forward (including some shorter pieces to be interspersed throughout the work, most likely). I'll probably be taking a week or so off from writing until I start Act III. I need a short break.
Lilly’s words echo in my mind throughout our entire bus ride home. Five simple words that I can’t get out of my head no matter how hard I try.
“Sometimes, people just grow apart.”
It’s a simple thought, almost elegantly so. And yet, it’s a hypothetical that society fights at every given chance. Every breakup has to be someone’s fault, right? Scores have to be kept. Blame has to be assigned.
Deep down, I know that it’s why I haven’t told anyone what happened between Shizune and I. I’m afraid. Afraid of having everyone tell me that it’s my fault. That I’m the unreasonable one.
In the end, though, does it really matter who’s reasonable or unreasonable? Why is it so important that someone be blamed? I’ve been carrying this with me for far, far too long. It’s time to get it off of my chest, once and for all.
Besides, I finally have a willing ear to listen. Said willing ear happens to be asleep next to me on the bus right now. I nudge her gently to wake her up - our stop is next, and it would be bad if we missed it.
“Lilly,” I ask, quietly, seeing her eyes slowly drift open from slumber. “It’s time to get up. Our stop is now.”
“Five more minutes,” she asks, to which I poke her again.
“No can do,” I say, apologetically. “In five more minutes, we’ll be in the next town.”
She sighs audibly, but collects herself well enough to exit the bus with me as it rolls to a stop. It takes me a moment to get my bearings, but I realize that we’re about a block from her apartment. I’m thankful she was so quick to volunteer her place for our discussion; mine is a disaster area.
As we walk alongside one another, I can’t help but notice that her step feels...lighter, somehow. Her mood is similarly lighter, as if a weight was lifted off of her shoulders. I suppose it was, given what she told me. I remain surprised - Lilly and Hanako seemed inseparable at Yamaku. It was amazing what sort of feelings and emotions people could hold onto.
I was glad, in a sad sort of way, that I didn’t really spend that much time with Hanako. I probably would have ended up in a similar place to Lilly. I know myself pretty well.
Lilly seems to know the way well, guiding me towards the front door of her building. She finds the key easily, sliding it into the door and opening it, then leading me up a staircase to her second floor apartment.
She opens the door, and escorts me in. What I see is a very functional apartment. It reminds me very much of my own, with the general lack of furnishings and frills. The living room beckons, with a soft-looking couch and a coffee table. She gestures to the couch, and nods.
“Please, sit down Hisao. I’ll get us something to drink. Would you like red or white?”
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” I tell her. She smiles at that, and disappears into the kitchen to pour us glasses of wine. I watch her as she does so - here, she is in her domain. She must have this small apartment completely memorized, and can move about it with ease. It’s impressive.
She returns with two glasses of red wine, placing them down on the table. Before I can open my mouth, she disappears again, returning with the bottle.
“Just in case,” she says, a smile curving her mouth, and I chuckle.
“It will probably be necessary,” I admit, picking up my glass, and clinking it with hers as she does the same. “To lightening our burdens?”
She nods at that in agreement, and we each drink. I have had considerably more alcohol than Lilly today, but I’m not feeling it much. Lilly, on the other hand, seems to the tiniest bit tipsy, in spite of her impeccable speech and demeanor.
“It’s story time, Hisao,” she says, settling down on the couch, wine in hand. “Fair is fair, after all.”
She seems eager - and is trying to hide just how eager she is. I can’t blame her, though. I was the same way about her particular secret, and even now my head’s still trying to process the fact that she and Hanako aren’t much more than distant acquaintances these days. In terms of shock, it’s hard to beat.
Unfortunately, I’ve got a story that beats it, and most others that I can think of. I take another slow, satisfied swig of the wine. It’s good - much better than what I have to drink at home. Lilly’s palette is obviously more refined than mine. Or she has more money to spend on alcohol. Or both.
Before I know it, her hand is in mine, squeezing it gently. I make a startled sound and turn to face her. She is sitting close, close enough that personal space isn’t particularly existent. I’m not complaining, but I cock an eyebrow that she can’t see.
“I’m here to listen,” she says, and then I realize that she’s trying to be reassuring. And succeeding, for the most part. “I won’t judge, I promise. Well. I won’t judge you, anyway…”
As she trails off, I know what she means, and I know that it was silly of me to be afraid. Other than my parents, there might not be anyone as likely to take my side in a breakup with Shizune as Lilly Satou.
“Alright,” I say, after one more courage gathering swallow. “It’s a long, long story, but I guess I’ll start with the beginning of the end. I came home from one of my short-term teaching jobs and found Shizune on the couch making out with--”
I am amazed just how easily it pours out. I didn’t expect that.
I also didn’t expect Lilly’s surprised interjection. Apparently, she didn’t expect me to say that, either.
“You might want to hold off on that, Lilly,” I say, a lopsided grin forming in spite of my most fervent wishes. “That sentence ends with the word ‘Misha.’”
My shoulders slump as my body melts into the couch. There. I said it. After so many months...finally...finally…
“Misha,” Lilly asks, anger in her voice. She’s sitting straight up, and as my hunched over body turns to face her, she’s practically towering over me. “That makes no sense! Shizune rejected her - practically the entire school knew that when it happened!”
“Yeah,” I agree, “I found out about that. But what no one actually knew is why Shizune rejected her. I found that out during the longest apology of all time. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone as apologetic as Misha was that day.”
I can still remember it clearly - the pink-haired girl’s face contorted and racked with sobs as she poured her heart out to me, so incongruous with practically every other memory of her that I have.
“Why did Shizune reject her during school,” Lilly asks Her glass is empty, and she starts pouring a second. Somehow, this story seems more stressful for her than it was for me. “I’d always thought…”
“If it makes you feel any better,” I reply, “to my knowledge, Misha’s the only woman Shizune’s ever been seriously attracted to. At one point, she called herself “Mishahisaosexual.” As for your question, though, you know this one.”
I pause, to take in the look of confusion on Lilly’s face. It’s not going to last much longer.
Lilly’s lips part in a silent “O” before wincing. Hard. I can’t say I blamed her; it wasn’t that far off from how I’d reacted back then, too.
“As you might imagine, Jigoro is not particularly understanding of alternate sexual preferences. By his standards, *I* was too feminine for his daughter, let alone...Misha. He never found out - still hasn’t - but let’s just say he had a habit of making rather unfriendly comments in his daughter’s presence. He would have disowned her, and she would have had nowhere to go. She…couldn’t accept Misha’s request. Knowing everything I know about Shizune? It must have driven her insane. And she couldn’t tell Misha - because Misha would never have gotten over her without a hard and firm no. As it was, Misha never got over her anyway, but I suppose it was the thought that counted.”
I finished my glass of wine, and poured myself a second. Lilly all but grabbed the bottle from my hands when I was done, and poured herself a third. She looked physically uncomfortable, as if she wished she could crawl out of her own skin.
“So you have just walked in on your two best friends furiously making out on the couch,” LIlly summarizes, her face torn between amusement, sympathy, and horror. “What on Earth could Shizune have possibly said to you when she saw you?””
Ah, it’s nice to have someone in your corner. It really, truly is. It gives me the courage to go on, a wry smile on my face as I answer.
“She asked me to join them.”
Because of course she did. Because, as shocked as I was at the time, there really was no more Shizune solution to the problem she faced than that. It was as elegant and simple as it was tone-deaf and impossible.
Lilly looks mildly scandalized, but not so scandalized that she doesn’t have a follow-up question.
“Did you?” she asks, dangling the wine glass from between her fingers, as if the answer I give will determine if she needs more or not.
“Yes,” I reply. “Yes, I did.”
In my defense, Shizune nearly kissed me senseless before asking, and had Misha unbuttoning my pants at the same time. Those two always *were* good at getting me to agree to things under duress.
“How was that,” Lilly asks, her cheeks flushed red, but the eager expression on her face contrasts deeply with any possible sense of embarrassment on her part.
“I can’t complain,” is all I’m willing to say on the matter. Some memories are best left as just that. “Are you asking me for details?”
“Maybe I am,” she chuckles. “I’ll spare you that, though. For now. What happened after you three woke up from being a tangle of limbs on the couch?”
“That’s a really long story, Lilly. We’d be here until four in the morning. Suffice it to say, though, that she wanted to make the arrangement permanent. It...made sense. I mean, if I wasn’t dating Shizune, I would have been interested in dating Misha. If any of us could choose two lovers, we would have picked the other two, so in that sense…”
“It sounds logical,” Lilly finishes. “Crazy, but logical at the same time. You said yes, didn’t you?”
“You make it sound like it was a fait accompli,” I say, trying to cling to some vestige of my pride. “But yes, I did. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It turns out I’m the only guy in the world who couldn’t handle dating two beautiful women at the same time.”
Even now, there’s something bitter in my voice. Something angry, mostly at myself. How many men would have killed to be in my situation? How many would have sucked it up and dealt with almost anything to ensure it continued?
Lilly’s hands reach out, to locate me. One finds my shoulder, and she uses it as purchase to help pull herself a bit closer.
“What happened to change your mind?” The question is asked softly. Sympathetically. She knows that this is really the heart of the matter - that up until now, this is a happy story.
“...I tried, Lilly. I really did. But I was the third wheel. I knew it. They knew it. They tried really hard not to show it, but it was...kind of obvious. Before long, it was the elephant in the room and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Only now do the tears start to flow. I’m crying, but not sobbing - I think I’ve sobbed myself out over this a long time ago.
I cry because I remember the dates they went on together - secretively, which almost made it worse, somehow. As if dating me was what they put up with to be with each other.
“I finally asked her to decide. I knew what the answer was, but I had to ask. I was miserable. I was watching the woman I loved, and the woman I was coming to love, walk off into the distance without me. If that was how my story was going to end, I didn’t want to have to sit there and watch it.”
It was like being a poker player with an awful hand who’d thrown almost all of his money into the pot. I had a losing hand, but what was I going to do with my last few dollars? Gambling them on a million to one shot was all I had left. I gambled, and I lost.
“That was the last time we spoke,” I managed, after several tries. “I haven’t been able to face her since. She’s reached out to me dozens of times, but I can’t bring myself to reply. I’m a terrible--”
I can practically hear the period at the end of the sentence.
“We are going to review everything you’ve just told me.”
Not a question. I don’t think she’s going to brook disagreement on this matter.
“You caught your girlfriend, whom you had been dating for several years, making out with one of your best friends. Rather than apologize and beg forgiveness, she convinced you to convert your relationship into something else, didn’t live up to her initial promises, and decided to leave you when you asked for things to return to the way they’d been. Do I have that correct?”
I have never seen Lilly Satou remotely this upset. Never. All I can do is nod. When she puts it that way, maybe I’m not such a terrible person after all.
“Thanks for making it sound like it’s not my fault, Lilly. I appreciate i--”
“This is not your fault, Hisao!!”
I’ve never felt smaller. By contrast, Lilly is drawn up to her full height. Her face is flushed, and she shakes her head back and forth.
“It’s not your fault that my cousin never seems to want to understand other people,” she continues. “It’s not your fault that she’s selfish enough to try and modify your relationship without even asking you. And it is certainly not your fault that you don’t want to speak to her again because of those things.”
“Actually,” I offer, weakly, “that last one kind of is my--”
“No one,” Lilly cuts me off, “but Shizune Hakamichi would ever expect her lover to want to continue to remain in contact with her after letting him walk in on her and her best friend.”
I... can’t really argue with that.
Somehow, though, that realization only makes things worse.
I thought everything would work out, somehow. Shizune was Shizune, an immutable force of nature. That was why I fell in love with her.
I was the one who changed. I was the one who compromised. And in the end?
I was the one who was left behind.
“Why are you so upset, Lilly?” I ask, in a belated, desperate attempt to get the spotlight off of me. It still strikes me as odd. I know that the two of them don’t get along, but…
“Why?” she asks, a wry smile on her face. “I’m not allowed to be upset that my cousin has treated my best friend poorly?”
She is, of course. I have no objections.
And yet, something’s not right here. Something doesn’t quite add up. Her reaction is...too strong. There are even the beginnings of what look like tears in the corners of her eyes.
I don’t know what to say. I have nothing to say.
All I can do is move closer and wrap both of my arms around Lilly, to hug her tightly. She stiffens in surprise at first, only to surprise me in turn by all but melting into the embrace. Her arms wrap around my neck, and I can feel her heart beating wildly against my chest.
This feels good. Too good. Warm and soft...and right, somehow. As if Lilly Satou in my arms just makes sense. Even the soft sounds of sobbing can’t fully distract me from this moment, as one of my hands buries itself in her hair, stroking her scalp and trying to soothe my mentor.
This feeling is nothing like what I’m used to. It’s warm and pleasant, as opposed to intense and all-compelling. I can think right now. I can reason. I can breathe.
And yet, I know what it is. How could I not? Ballads are written about moments like this, grand moments of realization. It feels silly to have not realized it before, with walks together and meals together and long talks about nothing together.
I spent so much time assuming that I was simply a default option in Lilly’s life that I didn’t realize the other possibility - that Lilly Satou could choose to do whatever she damned well pleased with her free time and had decided to spend a rather high proportion of it with me.
She was crying because I was. She was sad because I was sad. She cared for me, possibly more than I cared for myself.
As that realization hits me, it spreads over me like warm sunshine gently coming in through an early-morning window.
There are no nerves. I feel fine right now. There’s no gnawing worry in the pit of my stomach. I could be wrong, of course. I could be about to do something horribly wrong, and yet, I’m confident in my read
Only later will I realize the terrible irony, that it’s my time spent with one Shizune Hakamichi that gives me the courage I need to do this.
“Lilly?” I ask, gently tipping her chin upwards. Slowly, her head rises. It’s a bit selfish of me, really, but I want to look at her. Her lovely face is blotted with tears, and there is an inquisitive look on her face. I have her caught off guard, for certain.
“Hisao,” she asks, in a breathy little voice that I couldn’t resist if I tried. Well, Hell. Here goes nothing. Now or never.
“I’m sorry, Lilly.”
“Hmm?” There’s an adorable confusion in her voice. She really doesn’t know what I have planned. Hisao, the Always Predictable, is finally about to do something very much not.
“For not realizing sooner.”
I lean in close, capturing her lips with mine in a brief kiss. I intend to pull back, to give her a moment to ensure that this is, in fact, not a terrible mistake, but a hand on the back of my neck keeps me right where I am. Her mouth moves against mine, and soon enough I feel the gentle tug of teeth at my bottom lip. I gasp in surprise, and by that time her tongue is in my mouth, tangling with mine as I struggle valiantly to keep up.
Heh. Even with Lilly, I’m in over my head. Ah, well. At this point, I should consider it a speciality of mine.
By the time she lets me go, we’re both gasping for air in one another’s arms. ‘
I’m speechless. Lilly is, too, but she manages to come up with something to say before I can.
“Thank you, Hisao,” she whispers, a slow, happy smile spreading out over her face. “I was wondering if I was going to have to confess to you.”
“I would have enjoyed that,” I reply, a bit wistfully, and she quiets me with another kiss. This is a terrible precedent, Lilly. If you reward me for my bad behavior like that, I’ll never be good again.
“Most people would say we shouldn’t do this, Hisao,” she says, in a slurred, amused tone of voice. “We’re coworkers. And we’re drunk.”
“Tipsy,” I correct. I would be more concerned with this line of inquiry if she wasn’t clinging onto me so tightly. “I’ve never really much cared what “most people” think. We’re both professional enough to keep this private. As for the alcohol, if you’d like to postpone any important decisions until tomorrow morning, when we’ve sobered up, I’ve no problem with that.”
Lilly smiles at me. It’s the sort of smile I couldn’t resist if I tried.
“Alright, Hisao.” She’s putting considerable effort into speaking now, trying to keep as much of her proper exterior as she can. “Let’s go, then.”
“Where,” I ask, even as Lilly somehow extricates herself from my arms and stands, tugging on my hand impatiently.
“Bed,” she says, and my cheeks flash an interesting shade of red.
“But I thought you said--”
“To sleep,” Lilly says, casually, without a second thought. I stand up with her, lest my arm be pulled off. “Actual sleep. Until tomorrow, at least.”’
Given the nature of her objections, flimsy though they are, I should probably resist. I don’t have the willpower, though. She tugs me into the room and immediately closes the door. There’s no light on. This is naturally not a problem for her, even though it might be a problem for me.
“Um, Lilly,” I ask. “Where’s the bed?”
“Back-center of the room.” I hear the rustling of...something, and I swallow. Hard.
“What are you doing, Lilly?”
“Getting comfortable,” she replies. I can only imagine a smug little smile on her face. “Feel free to as well. I imagine the covers might be warm with too much clothing.”
“I don’t exactly have anything to change into, you know,” I point out. Not being able to see makes things much harder, as I try to listen for where Lilly is. I hear more rustling in the distance, and can only assume that she’s gotten into bed.
“I’m told men sleep in boxers.” I hear her stifling a giggle. Fine, then, if that’s how she wants to play… “And who said that I was changing into anything to begin with, Hisao?”
...this may not work out long term if you keep saying things that aren’t good for my heart, Lilly.
My clothes are in a neat little pile in a matter of moments. I start walking towards what I think is the bed, but run hand-first into the wall first. Turning 90 degrees, my shins finally brush up against the bed. Feeling my way around the covers, I manage to pull them back enough that I can get into the bed.
“Turn around,” Lilly insists, and who am I to refuse. As I lay down, I feel an arm slip under my neck. My head hits the pillow just as Lilly presses against me. True to her banter, she’s not wearing anything above the waist at least. The press of full, soft breasts against my back is a feeling that my body had utterly forgotten until now, and with her arms wrapped around me, I am happily, wonderfully trapped. .
“Good night, Hisao,” she murmurs, sleepily. “We’ll pick this up tomorrow.”
It takes my mentor but a few minutes to fall into a deep sleep, leaving me awake with a head full of pleasant thoughts and distant worries.
I have no idea how I’m actually going to fall asleep like this, though I think my students would refer to such a thing as a first world problem.
Characters: Shizune > Lilly > Rin > Emi > Hanako
Routes: Lilly > Rin > Shizune > Hanako > Emi
Replaying now, so subject to flux. Except Shizune. Shizune is best.